29 May 2016

Exploration x Expression @ PORT Commune

In a radio interview, Anahita Ghazanfari tells Syahbandi Samat that “…he needs to travel (…) watch, listen and read…”. Both artists-in-residence of the Sembilan program, the form of expression taken by each is distinctly different, and is a measure of the respective artist’s outlook of life. Self-taught Syahbandi draws faceless figures without his characteristic reference to fairy tales, the metaphorical symbols diluted by its self-serving seriousness. Despite the technical mastery displayed with ballpoint pen, all pictures point to inward-looking scenes and are unnecessarily emotionally-charged. Heavy metallic frames contribute to a dour visual experience.

Syahbandi Samat – Yang Pernah (Duri Dalam Daging) (2016)

Iranian-trained Anahita’s plants, rooms, and dresses, illustrate too an introspective moment, yet her presentation is more invigorating. ‘Harbouring Dreams #2’ depicts the artist standing with her paintings in a background of floral-patterned tiles, the water pipes and blue glow imbuing the picture with a heightened awareness of one’s material reality and emotional state. Hung on a wall are quotes and doctored portraits of local residents, the documentary record a collaborative effort by both artists during their stay at Seremban. Getting to know a foreign locale via conversations with its people, demonstrates a respectful attitude and broadens one's life perspective, which is a cue the younger artist should learn.

Anahita Ghazanfari – Harbouring Dreams #2 (2016)

25 May 2016

MAPPING (I): TANAH MELAYU @ NVAG

Now that the ground floor galleries are fit for public display, “MAPPING” promises to be the most exciting initiative undertaken by the art institution in recent times. If all goes well, this progressively amalgamating two-year project will form the basis for a permanent exhibition of the national collection, a maiden achievement for the Balai Seni Lukis Negara. At Galeri Reka, “TANAH MELAYU: Pembentukan Dari Kolonisasi” offers an arbitrary start to local art history, with drawings and watercolours made in the 1880s by British colonial officers. Exploring village settlements via boat, explorers such as Frank Swettenham and George Giles successfully capture a historical landscape, during their terrain mapping efforts.

William Samwell – Dyak Campong Kapan Landak River (1890)

Timelines and wall texts make the walkthrough an enjoyable one, as careful illustrations of figures and cross-hatched landscapes, are paired with humorous vignettes about inside jokes and local encounters. While drawing and painting are recognised as a Western practice, this show does not fully justify how its exhibits fit into Malaysia’s visual art history. Pictorial records of Tanah Melayu by European travellers and Chinese traders are decades older; Closer to home, Ahmad Suhaimi proposes in Sejarah Kesedaran Visual di Malaya, that Malay writer Munshi Abdullah (d. 1854) “…had a huge talent in visual art (…) His ‘strokes indicate that Abdullah was a serious artist.” Nevertheless, the presented starting point is sufficiently credible, for the viewer to proceed to the next exhibition segment

George Giles – Boat Life on the Pahang River (1885)

“He had a large book made of thick paper, and he used to put in it all kinds of leaves and flowers, etc. And if there was anything which he could not put in it, he had a Chinaman, a Cantonese, who was very clever at drawing pictures of either fruits or flowers, which he painted like life, and he told him to paint all these things. Besides all this, he had a barrel which was full of either arrack or brandy, I don’t know which, into which he put such creatures as snakes and centipedes and scorpions ; he put them in alive, and after two days he took them out, and put them in bottles, where they looked as if they were alive. The people of Malacca were astonished to see all this.”
Hikayat Abdullah, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir (1849) [translated by W.G. Shellabear. 1918]

Frank Swettenham  A Malay Mosque from A Malay Window, Ulu Bernam (1884)

21 May 2016

Words Become Art @ Wei-Ling Gallery

“道成了肉身,住在我们中间,满有恩典和真理。我们见过他的荣光,正是从父而来的独生子的荣光。”
- John 1:14, Chinese New Version (simplified)
“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
- Hebrews 11:3, English Standard Version

Charity (1Co. 13:4-7) (2003-2015)

Transforming verses from holy books into artworks is not new. Islamic calligraphy has a significant representation in Malaysian visual art history, while I recall Indonesian A.D. Pirous’ exhibition at Universiti Malaya last year that still evokes a spiritual resonance. What is new here is the individual artist reconciling his globalised artistic viewpoint, with an adopted religion adapted for a diasporic community. Sun Kang Jye picks out biblical passages from the Chinese translation, and imbues the verses with his sculpture-influenced inverted painting technique. Looking at embossed lines, charred marks, scraped-off paint, and colour fills, the emerging visual effect is done successfully, although its overall impact is hindered by stylised ideograms. 

Self (Artist verse) (2010)

Chinese characters are abstracted from pictorial representations, and to further abstract its curves into geometric lines, dissolves its legibility into a forceful design. Add to it an insistent approach on incising the characters – creation via subtraction – and one is left with a pictorial riddle. Deciphering the verses, the most effective presentations belong to the monochromatic and the colourful, as seen in the works utilising iron and cartridge paper. Absence of acrylic paint in these smaller creations, denote a stripped-down background for reflection. Conversely, larger works with vivid painted colours project a contemporary glossiness, which render spiritual meaning more unattainable. 

(Gal. 5: 22-26) (2010)

The standout work ‘Everlasting Covenent (Mt. 19: 5-6)’ recalls a sentimental time during one’s marriage ceremony, a binding verse recited before the church’s altar, and a life-changing moment. Impasto effects created from coloured outlines and cut-outs, coalesce with hidden embossed strokes, to signify a multi-dimensional richness that comes with married life. The Bible features prominently as a source material within the Western art canon, although typical references are stories and allegories, not verses and quotations. In Muslim-majority Malaysia where figurative depictions remain a contested approach, Kang Jye’s method in projecting his religious faith is culturally sensitive, yet invigorating in its steadfast adherence to a personal belief. 

Everlasting Covenent (Mt. 19: 5-6) (2016)

17 May 2016

Sembelit @ Lostgens'

 “The myriad of characters cramming his paintings are eating each other, smoking, running somewhere, shouting, puking; they drive sputtering motorcycle, Malaysian own Proton Sagas, lorries and buses…Teachers are throwing rubbish on their students’ heads; there are Japanese troops invading Malaysia on their bikes; there are British soldiers and British warplanes from the colonial era attacking heroes from Keh Soon’s childhood; there’s people dressed up as Superman and people with green skin, giant vaginas and porn actresses and actors transformed into everyday objects (…) Exploding heads and severed limbs, giant rabbits, men and women swimming or drowning in pools or at sea…”
- Exhibition statement written by Fabrizio Gilardino, co-assisted by Rini Hashim, posted on Facebook event page 

pigi mana (2015)

As compared to fellow FINDARS artist Tey Beng Tze, Lim Keh Soon’s illustrated output projects an incisiveness that warrant an impulsive yet sustained reaction. Straightforward metaphors – like the pants-less office boss climbing atop his subordinate with a smiling balloon head; or two boys pointing at people sucked into a dark whirlpool – hammer into the viewer powerful and memorable images. ‘You Will Never Walk Alone’ is inscribed Barbara Kruger-style into a vertical depiction of human life at various stages, the show tune/ sporting anthem relegated to a meditative chant on top of a monochromatic visual. In his drawings, grotesque characters are subjected to violent situations, notably in the wickedly funny “Dilarang…” series. 

Phantom of the Working Class (2009)

Keh Soon does well to evoke emotional impulses across a variety of issues, with only the occasional painting (‘sex is war, war is sex’) bogged down by excessive references to personal icons. Two “AV” paintings appropriate Japanese pornographic video covers, where body parts are replaced with industrialised objects, its repeated references to penetration striking a counter-point to the 'constipated' exhibition title. Such imbalances stemming from worldly pleasures materialise as a surreal vision in the older work ‘Whispering on Desires’; In ‘pigi mana’, the terror of traffic congestion is fully realised as a cruel & selfish reality for urban folk. We all want to go somewhere, but for what, and at what costs?

AV I (2016)

The most memorable exhibit best typifies the We are Fucked sentiment, prevalent in this small collection of works. ‘satu lagi bata di dinding’ supplements the haunting music of Pink Floyd’s hit song, with a picture of a deranged teacher pouring toxic waste on a subservient student-turned-bunny. The sejarah text book is overturned, as childhood heroes are persecuted by the weight of historical events at the bottom of the scene. Graffiti at the table sides retain truthful comments, but the platform may sink soon. The innocence of childhood is ruined by the education we received at schools. No dark sarcasm in the classroom, please!

satu lagi bata di dinding (2016)

07 May 2016

Snippets: Japan, April 2016

Still adjusting to the pace of travelling with a young child, I manage a visit to the Hyōgo Prefectural Museum of Art 兵庫県立美術館 during a trip to the three prefectures of the Keihanshin 京阪神. The Andō Tadao-designed building houses a permanent collection consisting of Japanese and Western artists, while the third floor features a retrospective showcase for the 19th century literati painter Tomioka Tessai 富岡鉄斎. In the lower galleries, paintings of desolate landscapes and large gestural abstractions, are hung near sculptures by Brancusi and Arp. Japanese painted screens and striking contemporary works are exhibited upstairs alongside Stella black drawings and Warhol silkscreen prints, which contribute to an overall eclectic presentation. 

Nakanishi Masaru 中西勝 - Landscape with Pigs (1967)

Impressionable exhibits include post-war paintings by Katayama Akihiro 片山昭弘, 1960s works by Nakanishi Masaru 中西勝 and Motonaga Sadamasa 元永定正, and a haunting ceramic sculpture titled ‘Devotions of Solitude’ by Araki Takako 荒木高子. Looking at a late 1930s landscape painting, it is wonderful to see the cropped compositions utilised in Japanese prints (and made popular by French post-Impressionists). The highlight of this trip, however, will be holding up and appreciating original ukiyo-e prints by Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 at a small bookstore in Kyoto. The precise composition, simple lines, beautiful bokashi effect, and crude imperfections, present a decorative collectible that is truly contemporary with its time.

Kanayama Heizo 金山平三 - Under Pear Blossoms (1936-1941)